Head and heart

I was in a pretty bad way yesterday. I don’t think that was clear when I wrote. Writing has the effect of taming things for a while, but the effect wears off often. I felt wrong, almost at an existential level. It felt fundamentally wrong and so unfair.

Later I reflected on that – why should that worry me so much? I don’t expect fairness. I know it’s just an arbitrary construction, and know better – mostly – than to take any digression from it personally. And mostly because of that I’ve been able to shrug it off and often, in fact, use it as motivation. I’m someone who responds well to such challenges.

There’s the head then, and there’s the heart. I know this in my head, and because I have become inured, and so defiant by extension, I feel it also in my self, my body, maybe even my heart. But not yesterday. Yesterday I put words to it trying to claim some order. I felt bleak in my heart though, and as I went about my day in a haze I associate with depression.

Last night I slept better than I have for so long. I have a sleep tracker that tells me how often I rouse during the night and puts a score on my sleep quality. Last night the score was 98%, which was no surprise. I woke to feel that I had not slept so well since I couldn’t remember, and reached to read the score. Once upon a time it’s how I slept most nights I think, but these days I average somewhere in the 70’s.

The sleep did me good. It settled me some. I recall just one small dream, though she was in it, as herself.

One of the things that went through my head yesterday was not just how I should feel, but what I think? I wonder if pure intellectual reaction has been corrupted by woolly philosophy. I wondered if I should be angry, but then considered that what I feel now because of her she may have experienced because of me. Does that make a difference? Does it make more sense of things? In any case, I didn’t feel angry.

I wondered if I should just walk away – but from what? I’m not doing anything but being myself. I’m not trying anything with her. I’m not trying to woo or charm or persuade her. I put no pressure on her except, possibly, by being myself – the person she fell for. And at this stage, I refuse to be anything less than that person.

I keep thinking, this is her decision now. I don’t know if that’s a cop-out, but it informs my behaviour and policy of non-intervention. Is it possible it confuses her? Would I be better trying something? That is my dilemma though, the two sides of it – I could be more or I could be less, and either might be right. Instead, I choose just to be who I am, not pushing, but present, decent, intelligent, reliable and fun. Here I am – over to you.

In my mind, I see the relationship between us constantly shifting, if not in transition then certainly dynamic. I am aware of her, and I feel her awareness of me. There was something, it hit a speedbump and went off track and raised a lot of dust – and now I am trying to steer back towards the track while the dust slowly settles. I’m not there yet, and dust still hangs in the air, but track this course and the air will clear.

But then, I wonder, is her snubbing the other evening the real final word on this? Is that what she wants me to know? There is no track?

It’s funny how we apply interpretations to events. I’m always wary of it because it often involves the emotions, and there’s the prospect of twisting the interpretation to match your hopes. I don’t know if that’s a filter I can see, but my sense from Friday is that she snubbed me because she didn’t want to face me then. I don’t think it was rejection, rather a convenience. I don’t know if she overheard the conversation from the kitchen and if that was playing in her, adding to the noise. I did a lot for her, and she knows it, and I know she is grateful, but, I suspect, it was not something she trusted herself to express at that moment. It was easier to blow by me.

These are the thoughts in me today after having slept. My head and heart are in more accord. I feel less sad and certainly less hazy. Tomorrow, at work, might tell the tale.

For me, I go on as ever. There’s no reason to doubt myself, for this is the authentic me – and I don’t want to be anything less than that.


Glad to care, but hurting anyway

I’m a man and too often these days we’re portrayed as insensitive and brutish. It’s true that I have a robust nature, but the waters run deep. All the same, I can’t remember when I was last left hurt by a woman. I think last night it happened.

I’ve charted the journey with the woman at work, and I now think it’s probable that at some point a few months ago she decided she won’t get fooled again, a decision which has informed our relationship ever since. In the last couple of weeks, it has warmed up some, though nothing to get excited about. There have been smiles again and shared moments, jokes and laughter.

Helping this along is the work I was asked to do to help her in an event she was planning. She is a part of the office engagement committee, and she’s very dedicated and conscientious. There are other members of the committee, but fair to say she is the driving force – it’s one of the attributes I admire her for, and which I find an instinctive allure.

She asked me to arrange some trophies for awards being given out on the night, partly because she didn’t have the time, but mostly she wanted to keep independent of the process. I was happy to take it on. I wanted to help her, plus I’m one of those people who like to see things go right. I don’t like to standby, I’d rather be hands-on doing it myself just in case.

As it turns out it was quite a demanding task coordinating between managers to find out who their winners were; with the trophy company in Brisbane organising the trophies, the inscriptions, as well as payment and shipping; and composing for each winner a short summary of their achievements to go on a certificate. A lot of it was last-minute because people left it to the last moment to get back to me. In the end, it all happened as it should, in large part because the trophy company were so accommodating.

A was relieved and grateful, but I think she expected it to go well. We don’t know each other intimacies, but we know key parts of the other because of our involvement, and because there is much in ourselves we recognise in the other. I’m just as wholehearted as she is, and she knows it.

In the background, I was guiding what was to be the introduction of cocktails into the evening, which was my idea. I guess I was the technical consultant when it came to that, helping to determine the cocktails, sourcing the ingredients, the set-up, and so on. I even made a batch of sugar syrup last-minute because no-one else had.

And mid-afternoon yesterday I clocked off work to help set-up the room and get it organised with her and others.

The event kicked off. The cocktails were a hit, and there was a vibe, unlike any previous events. Come the awards ceremony I was in the background handing the trophies and certificates to the manager to present. As I knew, and she didn’t, she was one of the winners, and very worthy too.

The pressure was off and we could relax and enjoy the night. The night went on, longer than usual. I mingled, occasionally bumping into her, but mostly not. I had offered to help with the clean-up, but as the crowd was slow to disperse began to do some in the background while they were still there – disposing of rubbish, cleaning up the cocktail table and the remnants, carting stuff up and down the stairs, doing dishes, and so on. It was exhausting work but I was happy to do it. If you start something you finish it, that’s how I was brought up.

On one occasion another guy came downstairs with me carrying a load. He’s only 25, a very interesting character, but with a good heart. He’s a bit of an extrovert and has taken to me. Earlier we’d had a candid conversation about his father being basically a drug addict, and I’d shared with him some of my story. We continued the story downstairs, alone in the kitchen.

I found out he’d got in with the wrong crowd and had become a drug dealer. He was making $7,000 a week working a few hours, but then some of his friends got arrested and he realised how it wrong it was and he got out. He told me of a harsh childhood, and how he was trying to get things back on track. Weaving through this conversation was my story as he asked questions and I answered explaining how I was lucky to have good friends and how I’d survived by telling myself this is not how I want my story to end.

A couple of girls came in then and I left to continue the clean-up. Outside the kitchen, I met the girl. She made mention – and I don’t know why – that she had been sitting at her desk the last 20 minutes. I presume she might have approached the kitchen, got wind of the conversation, and backed off. Even at her desk, on a vacant floor, it’s probable she could hear us. Maybe that’s what she was telling me.

Anyway, we finished cleaning up and the last three of us went downstairs to the bar we go to Friday’s. Someone bought me a beer and I stood chatting with my best mate in the place. She did the rounds thanking people and saying her goodbyes. It had been a big night but it had gone well. Earlier she had told me she felt proud, just as she should.

Then the thing happened. Or rather it didn’t. She’s doing all this and then comes to leave. I’m standing by the door, and in fact had been opening and closing it for people. I open it again, my arm above her head holding it open for her. She doesn’t even look at me. No goodbye, see you Monday, no thanks for your help, no nothing. Off she went.

That got to me. I wasn’t hurt then but disappointed. Without understanding why it felt significant. The thought crossed my mind: am I so bad? It’s not as if she could have forgotten or overlooked me – I was right there. She chose not to. But even as I wondered that I was sure it was not because I was so bad. I think fundamentally she likes me, and behaviour like that is not in her character. So what, then?

It was something, but I couldn’t tell what it indicated. It wasn’t nice, but I didn’t see it as a negative to our prospects funnily enough. It’s a complex mix, and when it’s complex anything can happen – it’s indifference you have to worry about. I felt sad though, and subtly upset – but not yet hurt.

I went home with it full in me. At one moment I wondered if the problem was with me, but then there are people who sit around her who like me enough to give me a hug or a kiss on the cheek, and I can’t even get a handshake out of her. Above all, it felt unfair.

My dreams were all about it. I shared a house with a woman and a couple of other guys. The woman and I had a similar thing to A and I. Mostly she favoured the others. Sometimes she wouldn’t even acknowledge me. But then there would be moments of unexpected intimacy. Moments when eyes caught, a smile developed. Moments when you knew that it’s not because she doesn’t like you, so then…what?

I woke up this morning and I was hurt. The bruise had darkened overnight. I don’t deserve this. I’m not that person. I don’t do things to look good or be liked. I do things because I think they’re the right things to do. I think I’m a decent person, and I can’t believe she doesn’t know that. I feel it though. I can live without thanks as such, it’s the lack of acknowledgement that hurt. I got profuse thanks from two of her colleagues, plus a senior manager, but this was her chance and – butkus.

I’m weary of it right now. I just want to be able to talk to her. I want her to trust me. Like I haven’t for many years I feel hurt, but not aggrieved. I wonder if she knows what she’s done. Seems to me she either doesn’t like me or likes me an uncomfortable amount, nothing in between.

For me, I can only continue as I am. We work together. I like her. This was never going to be a quick thing, and certainly not a sure thing. I can only be my best self and hope she comes to see that.

Ultimately, though it’s painful, to be hurt by someone is proof that you care. I’m glad to care so I’ll cop the hurt.

PS Sometimes I feel there’s a conspiracy afoot – Facebook knows my feelings. She’s there first in line as someone I might know when I open Facebook, smiling back at me. And now she’s there same place in LinkedIn.

Unrequited possibility

I can’t control a lot of things, or even many things. I know that, and I’ve known it for a long time. For the most part there’s comfort in that. It absolves me of the need to influence things I have no say in. I can let go, relax, let fate take its course. H has no play in this game.

At other times, however, I find myself trying to interfere nonetheless in defiance of logic and rational thought, striving to do and be, to exert myself on something for which I’m unwilling to relinquish responsibility. It’s an impulse both of control and existential desperation. H must act.

It’s that to and fro that has patterned much of life, and I’m sure much of human existence. I don’t know that it’s a bad thing even if so often it is futile and exasperating. It doesn’t always feel right to sit and observe. It’s the doing that accounts, or at least the pretence of it: I tried.

I find myself facing this conundrum once again. As I described earlier, I’m sad that some of my decisions might inadvertently have caused heartache to someone else. I can’t go back and change things though. What I can do is try and make it good now. The problem is I can get no traction. I can’t make people listen to me. I can’t make people like me again. I can only try.

I find myself fluctuating between two poles. Between acceptance: yes, it’s sad, but it’s history now and the moment has passed and there is no more I can do. Then there is the other pole, more fundamental to me I think: it’s too sad to leave it at that, perhaps even too tragic. And I like her, don’t I? And even if I’m not sure of it I think in the heat of her she likes me too. And so…?

What it all adds up to is tenderness. No matter which way I look at it I’m sorry for what I put her through. I wish I could reach out and tell her how sorry I am. It flows in me, a warm, delicate, lovely thing. I feel a better man and want to share it with her. I want to look in her eyes and tell her how much I like and admire her. I want that connection to her, to look in her eyes and find affection as well as understanding. It feels a near thing sometimes. The problem is I can never get that close to her, as if she knows it.

I’m sure a little honesty and candid conversation would go a long away. I can’t get to that point though. We stumble before it. It’s like a wall I can’t get by and it leaves me frustrated. I’m not that man I want her to know. I’m kind and decent. I have integrity. I want her to know that I’m not a man who would ever want to hurt her; I want her to know that rather I’m the man who wants to make her happy.

All I can do is live in this. For now it’s not about what I can and can’t do. All I can be is true to what I feel and what I want, and hope that it shines through. I won’t back away again. I’ll be this person tender and full of grace and hope she sees it, hope she feels and one day chooses to respond to it. I can only be me, but I want it to be this me, glowing with unrequited possibility.

A terrible pity

I had dinner with a friend last night and she asked about the girl at work. I was surprised, but it turns out I said something in passing a couple of months ago and she remembered. So I updated her a little on what had happened since and she gave me her verdict.

She reckons A – that’s the girl at work – had a thing for me. When I went all quiet over Christmas she felt rejected. She took it very personally and lost trust in me. She still likes me my friend reckons, but won’t allow herself to get over the mistrust and disappointment.

I admit it was one theory I had considered, but was unwilling to believe. It makes sense in a lot of ways though. Her rehearsed response to me is friendly, but distant; her spontaneous reaction to me is much brighter and engaging.

Still – and I argued this last night – surely she must know it wasn’t directed at her. I sent her an email, after all, explaining it. That was my very male, rationalist take on things, but my friend last night basically dismissed that. She reckoned the wound was so deep by then that my words would have had no impact: the damage was already done.

Do I believe this? I don’t know. I know something is badly amiss, and it fits at least some of the known facts. And of course once I accepted that a whole lot of small things came into view – how within hours of each other a couple of people had called me a womaniser in front of her; how on another occasion I had a female friend join us for drinks; how my social activities can be so easily misconstrued. If this is the true reason then I reckon she thought I didn’t take her seriously just as she was starting to seriously invest in me (before Christmas I thought we were on the verge of ‘something’ happening), and afterwards, when I went into my shell, she took it as a rejection of her feelings. She was hurt by that and angry. Then when she starts to see and hear other things about me (which I’m innocent of) she begins to join the dots. She likes me as a natural thing, but wants nothing to do with me – and though she’s friendly enough, maybe she just wants me to suffer a little too.

In any case hearing this last night I was filled with a deep remorse. I don’t want anyone to feel bad about something I’ve done, even strangers. I have no right to hurt anyone like that. That it was never my intention – the opposite is true – is beside the point. I had my reservations – the difference in our ages, the fact that we work together – but I really liked and respected her. I still do.

I left wanting to make it good, but not knowing how. I realised that I need to change some of my current behaviour towards her. My demeanour mirrors hers: I’m friendly, but I’d given up on trying to engage. If I’m at fault here I need to own up to it. I don’t think I can say anything, but I want her to know that I like her, and that I’m here and ready if ever she wants to open up and get closer.

The whole thing feels a terrible pity.

Putting it on the line

I did something this morning I didn’t want to do, but felt that I must. It leaves me feeling very uncomfortable.

I’ve been erratically charting the spasmodic and conflicted interactions with the girl here at work. It’s been up and down and generally confusing. More often than not I don’t know how to act or what to say. I don’t mean to make it more complex than it should be, but when you don’t know which way is up you’re just as likely to do the wrong thing as you are the right. It’s now got to the point that something needs to be done because it can’t go on like it has been.

Last week I got into work and for the first couple of days she was bright and forthcoming to me. I responded in kind, but didn’t try anything myself. For the rest of the week it reverted to type. It became awkward again, and whether that’s because I didn’t respond adequately I don’t know – I never do know. All I can say is that on drinks Friday night we ended up sitting opposite each other, but not interacting. She left early which, rightly or wrongly, I think was because of me. If I knew that was true I would feel guilty, if not distressed. I’d rather be discomforted myself than cause it in others. As it stands I feel some of that guilt and distress regardless.

It seemed to haunt my sleep on Friday night. Saturday morning I lay in bed wondering what I could do. Originally I thought I’ll just be nice every day regardless of her reaction, hoping that persistence would break through the crusty reserve between us. I’m sure she feels no more hostile to me than I do to her. It’s just this mutual pickle we’ve landed in without knowing how to get out of it.

The more I thought about it the more I thought I must be more decisive. The time for ploys is past. I had to take a risk to clear the air, one way or another.

It’s impossible to speak to her at work, so the only option seemed email – not my favourite channel for a conversations like this. I composed in my mind an email explaining what’s been happening with me, going back to Christmas when I became depressed, and the weeks since when I’ve struggled to reform myself. I’m pretty candid, more so than I’m comfortable with – but isn’t that the point?

I explain how I’m trying to open myself up, but how that makes me feel vulnerable and uncertain. I tell her I don’t know how I’m meant to act sometimes. I say that I’ve been self-absorbed, and how it has made some people confused and uncomfortable.

Though the words are raw I’m expressing myself with dignity. This is something I must do, something that will make me a better man – but yes, I’m sorry if it has caused discomfort, that’s not my intention.

Basically I lay it out in my head, exposing my soft underbelly. And though I’m full of trepidation I come into work this morning and first thing I do is write it out properly and – after hesitating a few moments – sending it to her. It’s out there.

Gosh I felt depressed afterwards. I felt as if I’m always getting in these situations where I must do something hard to extricate myself from. I felt weary of it. That only lasted a while though. It was done, fate would take its course.

She came in late, but must have read it by now. I don’t know if I expect a written response. If so I expect it will come later after she has reasoned it out. There may also be no response, which I’d be fine with too. End of day I’ve done my bit, and though it brings no relief I don’t know if I can do more.

Nothing good gets away

I’ve been meaning to add this for a while. It’s a letter from the writer John Steinbeck to his son. I reckon it’s pretty good, and pretty true too:

“Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First — if you are in love — that’s a good thing — that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second — There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply — of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it — and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone — there is no possible harm in saying so — only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another — but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”

Good inside

So I went out for a drink after work on Friday. There’s a guy at work, quite a cool dude, who’s been at me for a couple of months now to catch up for a drink. He asked me again last week and I knew I couldn’t refuse him again, so I said yes.

My plan was one or two and then home. I’d been invited to a poker night later so it fit well, but at that stage I thought it would be an innocent brew and some inconsequential conversation.

As it turned out there were a group of people collecting for a drink, including the girl I’ve been having all these problems with. My heart fell. I’m at the stage that I’m happy to avoid her, so awkward has it become. I’ve done my bit trying to make it better, and now have basically parked the attempt. And so seeing her there was an inconvenience, as was probably my appearance for her.

I sat at an available seat away from her and soon fell into deep conversation with a range of people. Every time I thought to leave someone put another bottle of beer in front of me. One of the people I’m closer too had confided to a couple of the women there that I wrote on the side, news they received with fascination. For the next 20-30 minutes I was plied with questions that led to conversations about literature and writing. I love those discussions.

In the meantime the people sitting between me and the girl had left. We were sitting on a bench seat, with her at the end against the wall. I stood hoping that someone would come in and take the vacant seats, but in the end had to slide over to make room. I shouldn’t have been surprised, that’s how such things always seem to work out. I ended up sitting right next to her.

Neither of us spoke to the other. It wasn’t rude. I was busy speaking to the people on my left and across from me. She was busy talking to the person opposite her. Only once when the conversation became more general did her well-mannered instincts come to the surface as she explained who a newcomer to the table was.

I don’t know that it was particularly awkward, but it felt very obvious.

She left soon after, shifting the table away from her to get out rather than ask for us to let her out. I wasn’t surprised she left – it seemed inevitable. And I was glad.

Later I thought how utterly ridiculous that two more than usually intelligent people, both of us decent human beings, should descend to such a silly situation. It’s exactly what I wanted to avoid, but I guess all roads lead to Rome in matters like this. I wonder what is in her mind? Whatever it is she’s got the wrong end of it and unfortunately it’s only make it harder for her.

Me, I’m the happiest I’ve been for a long while, touch wood. Opening up as I have this year is close to the best thing I’ve ever done. I feel energised. I feel lighter than many a year, and free from the stuff that was dragging me back. It might sound strange, but I feel connected to an energy I’ve never been a part of before. She’s not a part of that – in other words, what I feel is independent of what happens between us.

That’s what most things boil down to in the end if you’re true to yourself. I can’t control things outside me, but if I’m good inside I can manage anything.